MountainStar Health - April 15, 2021
by Craig Bielik

“Grrrrawwwk” is not a feeling you should have in your leg, and Russ Heiniger knew he was in trouble the very second he experienced that strange sensation coming from his.

Russ works as the Ethics and Compliance Office at Ogden Regional Medical Center, overseeing adherence to procedure and standards for the hospital. He began at the hospital in the environmental services department but thanks Ogden Regional’s parent company, HCA’s career coaching, he was presented the opportunity to advance.

It was just a few days before Christmas 2020. Russ was in Brigham City, Utah on his lunch hour, hurriedly running some of those last-minute errands we all tend to have on our plate at that time of the year. “I stepped out of my car when I slipped on some ice. I heard and felt this “Grrrrawwwk” in my leg as I hit the ground. I just laid right where I fell because I could not move, I instantly knew something was wrong.”

Within a short time, a man came over to where Russ was laying and asked him if he was alright. Russ told him he needed help but the man wasn’t sure what he could do — COVID-19 infections were raging through the world at the time and the man wasn’t sure if it was safe for him to be near Russ. “I knew I was hurt, but I told him that I was o.k. and could drive myself to Brigham City Community Hospital (a hospital in the same Mountainstar network as Ogden Regional) which was only a few blocks from where we were.” The man then graciously assisted Russ to his car.

Russ realized that he was physically incapable of driving as he struggled to get back into his car, he couldn’t bend or operate his leg and the pain he experienced was excruciating. He wisely decided to call 911 and request help from an ambulance.

Thankfully for Russ, an ambulance arrived shortly and transported him to Brigham City Community Hospital where they discovered that the ‘Grrrrawwwk’ he felt was the result of a badly fractured hip and femur.

“I was told that the femur is one of the most painful bones to break because it is such a large bone.” Russ recalls.

But there was more that the professional emergency providers at the Brigham Hospital discovered about Russ. Routine ER patient testing found that although he had no symptoms, nor reason to believe he had COVID-19, he was, in fact, COVID-19 positive.

Because of the severity of his injury, and his COVID-19 positive status, the ER team transferred Russ to and the Intermediate Care Unit (IMC) at Ogden Regional Medical Center in Ogden, Utah.

As a Level II Trauma Center, Ogden Regional Medical Center is committed to prevention, education and improved comprehensive trauma care. This designation is from the Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness. It means that trauma teams and resources are high-quality and on-site 24/7. And that makes Ogden Regional ready and able to stabilize and treat most types of traumatic injuries.

As luck would have it, Russ became one of the first patients to come under the care of the hospital’s new orthopedic trauma specialist, Dr. Tristan Mele, who had joined the medical staff there just a few weeks prior to seeing Russ. Repairing severe and complicated bone breaks is what Dr. Mele is highly trained to do, and he promptly went to work on Russ’ leg and hip.

Russ turned out to be a big fan of Dr. Mele. “He is a rock star and did amazing work. I felt confident knowing that he would take really good care of me. He was so good to explain everything to me after the surgery and made sure that I understood what had happened and what I could expect going forward. That meant a lot to me. Prior to the surgery I was told that this was a common injury for ‘people in the 70- to 80-year-old demographic’ and that it was a little unique for someone my age to have such a bad injury; and so, I didn’t really know what recovery would look like. Surgery was a success, and I came out with a titanium rod down my femur and a smaller rod connecting to my hip. In his post-surgery visit, Dr. Mele explained how he went about the surgery and how I would get better. His comment early on that it was a “fairly routine procedure and straightforward” gave me assurances, once again, that he was competent.”

Russ’s injury required a stay in the hospital for a few days – complicated by the fact that he was COVID-19 positive.

“This was my first stay in a hospital for surgery, let alone as a patient, and you learn a lot about how the hospital works when you are being cared for constantly. It was very humbling for me because I couldn’t do anything for myself and had to get help with everything I needed. The most wonderful part of my stay was how comforting the staff was to me. I would hear ‘I’ll be with you during the surgery’, you’re going to be fine, you’ll be back up on your feet in no time,’ etc. That meant so much to me at a time when I didn’t know what to expect. I’m somewhat familiar with the mechanics and processes that we follow, due to my job, but I’ve never been on the other side of the bed before. I was just grateful for my treatment and so happy to be in the hands of people I knew were competent and concerned for me.” Russ said.

“In hindsight, I’m also grateful that I had no COVID-19 symptoms because after seeing firsthand what it could have been like, I think that would have done me in! Others near my room me were so sick, and I felt bad for what they were experiencing. Also, hard was that my family could not visit me due to COVID protocols currently in place. I could only FaceTime and text them.” Russ said “And, of course, because I had COVID-19, my whole family had to quarantine all through the Christmas break.”

Despite all that, Russ healed well and was back to work in just a few weeks with the support of a walker and a cane. Dr. Mele told Russ he should recover about 75% of his leg and hip function within a few months and would most likely be 100% after a little more time.

Should you ever find yourself ever feeling that awful “Grrrrawwwk” when you fall, it’s good to know that the one of the best trauma teams in the state of Utah is located at Ogden Regional Medical Center and ready to help you!